09 November 2008


It's becoming clear, as I mentioned before, that Proposition 8 will end up being only a bump in a road, not the end of the line. So the various arguments pro and con have continued to rattle around in my brain, because they're likely to come up again. This evening one point which had really been bothering me has finally crystallized sufficiently to write it down here.

I've read several times the August 2006 interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman about “same gender attraction,” specifically with an eye toward legal analysis and argument they may have offered in support of the Church's stance against same-sex marriage. Elder Oaks is a former law professor and justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and Elder Wickman was a prominent attorney in California before becoming a General Authority.

I found the interview surprisingly devoid of any such analysis other than from a religious doctrinal perspective. Perhaps that was a function of their audience. Regardless, the consistent focus was on “God's law,” revealed “Word”, the Proclamation on the Family's statement that marriage between a man and a woman is “central to God's plan”, etc. as reasons for the Church to oppose what both men called "genderless marriage."

As an active member of the Church I have no quarrel with Church doctrines as stated in the Scriptures. I also hope, with many others, that there is more for us to learn about marriages and partnerships in the eternities. I see no other way to resolve the impossible situation the Church now finds itself in with respect to its GLB members, because as it now stands, LDS doctrine essentially condemns unmarried gay and lesbian members to celibacy in this life and an unknown future in the next, if they wish to remain members of the Church in good standing and to qualify for the highest celestial rewards later. The Church asks this superhuman sacrifice of no other group solely because of the accident of birth with such a “core characteristic.”

But I am surprised to find myself so disturbed that two senior Church leaders, both accomplished lawyers, are citing LDS religious doctrine as the justification for what in California's case has been Church support for efforts to take away an existing constitutional right from a specifically targeted subset of Californians. There is no other way to describe what happened. This is not a pejorative description, it is simply a legal fact.

I fully support the Church's right to speak out publicly on what it sees as moral issues. But Elders Oaks' and Wickman's statements seem to go beyond that. They appear to be arguing that religious doctrine is sufficient basis to change secular law so as to deprive certain people of a constitutional right that those people would otherwise retain. I don't think we want this camel's nose under anybody's tent. What if Evangelical Christians were able to muster the lungpower and political clout to ram through a federal law saying that since nothing in the Bible authorizes “secret” religious ceremonies, in order to reduce the risk of child abuse all such ceremonies had to be public? The Church lost its defense of polygamy on free exercise of religion grounds in the 19th century , and there's no guarantee that the free exercise clause would protect temple admission practices today if the Evangelicals really geared up and went after us like this. My point is that they'd be able to justify their efforts with exactly the same approach Elders Oaks and Wickman gave for pushing Proposition 8. That worries me.

Regardless of one's position on Proposition 8, I think that the Mormons of all people should look with suspicion on the idea that doctrinal differences are sufficient basis to change secular law and restrict the constitutional rights of a very specifically targeted group of citizens. This could come back to haunt the Church. It looks like the same approach used a little over a century ago to justify the Edmunds-Tucker Act, a federal law which tried to destroy a small, quirky church with its own alternative form of marriage which all good traditional Christians back then knew was contrary to God's law and the revealed Word too.


Beck said...

I, too, have no problem with the Church using its pulpit to preach religious doctrine against social ills - and that includes gay marriage if they are so inclined to do so. They preach against pornography, infidelity, gambling, alcohol consumption, smoking, violence, abuse, corruption, etc.

The battle against all social ills falls within "moralily" and I would be sorely disappointed in my Church NOT preaching, teaching, exhorting and encouraging for us to fight against these ills.

But, why has this issue raised to a different level? What makes a committed relationship between two people outside the Church rise above all other social "ills"?

I think it is because it is an easy target - and that's all. The State of Utah wanted to legislate against smoking in public places but didn't do so until after several other states did it, and after they saw it was the majority opinion - for they didn't want to appear as enforcing a religious view on the masses by legislating the Word of Wisdom. They've even softened and continue to soften the liquor laws as time goes on - not standing on the grounds of religious rights being legislated - allowing people to make their own decisions.

So why, then, is this something that must be legislated as being forbidden - the use of the word "marriage"? Why can't this issue remain at the pulpit and not at the ballot box?

Again, the Church has the "right" to do what they did. I have no problem with their "right" to do so. What I'm asking is "why the difference? Why this issue? Why not equally go after all other social ills?"

Because, they felt the majority were still with them... but what happens when it is not?

Steve M. said...

I had the same qualms about the Oaks/Wickman interview. I simply don't think that religious doctrine is a sound basis for rewriting a constitution or denying rights to minority groups.

During the Prop 8 campaign, the Church tried to make some arguments that would be more persuasive in the context of secular policymaking, but they were pretty underwhelming. For instance, there's simply no basis in California or United States law for believing that the right of Latter-day Saints to preach against homosexual behavior or to refrain from recognizing or performing same-sex marriages would be infringed if Prop 8 failed. Yet Elder Bednar and others relied on the religious freedom argument in pushing the proposition.

Legal same-sex marriage is an inevitability. If the California Supreme Court lets Prop 8 stand (as it likely will), another voter initiative will write it out of the state constitution in the near future.